The citizenship of Meeker Park can be divided between the year-rounders and the summer folks. It’s a badge of pride to be a year-rounder, to withstand the winters that can be eight, sometimes nine months long. I’m up here all winter, although it’s only two days a week, and when it’s really cold, maybe only every other week. (I draw the line at being in the cabin when it’s 13 degrees inside.) So I consider myself a part-time year-rounder, and I feel some pride in that.
But there’s another category of Meeker Park cabin owners: the ones who are never here, whose cabins sit closed up through snow, winds, summer rains. In the yards you’ll see weathered propane tanks, outhouses with the doors coming off, old washing machines now inhabited by chipmunks. I’ve been here five years now, and I’ve never seen anyone at the green house across the road. When I mentioned that to one on of my neighbors (a year-rounder), she ominously said “And you never will.”
From the stories I’ve heard, these are the cottages that once belonged to people who loved this place and came here often but have since died or moved to nursing homes. Even though their children and grandchildren have no interest in cabin life, they aren’t quite willing to sell the property. Maybe they’re waiting for the housing prices to go up, or they still carry some warm memories of being at the cabin as a child. Maybe, out of respect to the dead grandparents, they are hoping that someone in the family will take an interest. In the meantime, the cabins sit there, boarded up, whispering of better times.
It’s a familiar scenario to me. The same thing happened to my family cabin in Wisconsin. To my grandparents, who bought the first cabin on the lake, the north woods must have been paradise after their lives in Chicago, where the prevailing landscape is rows of brown brick buildings. Their children—my parents and aunts and uncles—brought their own families to the lake, and my siblings, cousins and I embraced this place with joy and love: we learned to swim and water ski, rowed endlessly around the lake, discovered what poison ivy looked (and felt) like), and pulled bluegills and bass from the deep water.
But something happened with the next generation—the ones now in their 30s and 40s. They lost interest in going to the lake, maybe because they couldn’t get cell phone or Internet reception and couldn’t check messages or Facebook. And so these cabins sit, visited now only by my aging siblings and cousins.
Maybe another generation will discover the pleasures of nature, renounce text messaging for the sight of a moose or bear walking down the road, abandon their iPads for a three-day snowstorm or the wind howling through the pines. Or maybe this little settlement will return to nature, to the bears and coyotes, ground squirrels and blue jays. That wouldn’t be a bad thing either.